The Schenectady Free Health Clinic officially closed its doors to patients July 28 and is finishing up its two-month transition process, after announcing in June it had become impossible to meet its annual $525,000 operating costs.
“We have been transferring our patients,” Executive Director William Spolyar said. “The majority of them are going to Hometown Health or Ellis Medicine.”
The free clinic saw about 2,500 patients regularly — most of them uninsured and low-income.
Rowie Taylor, executive director of the YWCA of Northeastern New York, works with many of the patients who were directly benefitting from the free clinic. She said she is sad to see the doors closed at the Franklin Street clinic.
“They have made an amazing difference in our community,” she said. “And I am very sad that economic times have made it impossible for them to continue.”
The all-volunteer clinic was founded in 2003. Inability to secure funding for its budget forced its closure.
In 2007, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer eliminated discretionary funding for all state legislators, which had been where most of the free clinic’s money came from.
The result was devastating, leaving a large gap in funding. The clinic survived several more years on a patchwork of grants and donations that was never quite adequate. The decision to close the free clinic was announced earlier this summer.
Using $50,000 from Schenectady County, the free clinic began a two-month transition period.
“It has been an ongoing transition,” Ellis spokesman Matt Van Pelt said. “We have been working together to make sure that transition is easy.”
Patients of the Schenectady Free Health Clinic were notified of the closure by mail, according to Spolyar. And representatives from the other providers were at the clinic in the last few months to meet and speak with patients about their concerns and the transition process.
“They got to talk directly to the representatives from the organizations,” Spolyar said.
“We stationed people there to start working with the patients,” Van Pelt said. “Ellis has a community health worker that has been doing outreach to these patients to determine what their health care needs are.”
A sign now hangs on the clinic door notifying patients and visitors of its closure. The transition has also included a transfer of medical records.
“If somebody was a patient here and they are looking for their medical records, those are now located at Ellis in the medical records department on the McClellan campus,” Spolyar said.
Taylor said she thinks Hometown and Ellis have done a great job with the transition.
“I think it has gone as smooth as it can be,” she said. “We have worked diligently to try to get everyone connected with either Hometown or Ellis.”
“I would have to say both Ellis and Hometown, they bend over backwards to help our patients.”
Hometown Health and Ellis have hardship programs for low-income patients, meaning their services are offered at minimal charge, but for many patients that means they are still not entirely free.
“It may not be totally free but certainly the opportunity for them to get medical care is still available,” Spolyar said.
Hometown CEO Joe Gambino explained that the nonprofit primary care provider works on a sliding fee scale and the price of care is determined based on income.
“We provide care in a similar way in that we do not deny care to anyone,” he said. “So if someone comes in and they are uninsured and don’t have sufficient resources for the care, we still provide the care.”
Gambino said Hometown is already seeing many patients from the free clinic.
“We are absolutely seeing patients from the clinic and we were seeing patents even prior to them closing down,” he said. “We have seen a significant number of them transition into our health center from their care.”
In June, Ellis said it would take over the Schenectady Free Health Clinic once a week in order to maintain a presence at the Franklin Street location until the lease was up in October. But, they no longer do that because when the Free Health Clinic’s license was surrendered, medicine could not be practiced there.
Van Pelt said the Service Care Central at Ellis Health Center on McClellan Street offers walk-in hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays and is similar to the free clinic.
Taylor said a simple “thank you” to the Schenectady Free Health Clinic, its doctors and its nurses is simply not enough — they will be missed.
“It was first-class medical services. I thought the Schenectady Free Health Clinic added such a fabulous dimension in our community,” she said. “It provided health care for the most vulnerable of our citizens.”